Monthly Archives: May 2009


GSC: Senator Ben Nelson is angry (second in a series)

Change Congress launched its second “good souls corruptionattack today, this time against Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson. (Two Dems in a row; we’ll be more balanced next time.) The attack has excited an hysterical response from the Senator’s office. Read about the charge (here) and the response (below), and then please sign our petition to Senator Nelson.

At the beginning of May, Senator Nelson was reported to have said that including a “public option” (giving Americans a choice to opt into a public system) in a national health care proposal was a “deal breaker,” and that he would “form a coalition of like-minded centrists opposed to the creation of a public plan, as a counterweight to Democrats pushing for it.”

On May 7, our friends at Public Campaign produced a report that showed that Senator Nelson has received more than “$2 million from insurance and health care interests in his three campaigns for federal office.”

These two facts together expose Senator Nelson to the charge of “Good Souls corruption” — legal, even ethical acts that reasonably lead the public to wonder whether it is the merits or the money that is driving this Senator’s decision.

Senator Nelson responded immediately to the attack by issuing the following press release. [Bracketed annotations are courtesy of me, not the Senator’s staff.]



May 28, 2009 – The office of Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson today warned Nebraskans not to fall for a misleading fundraising gimmick by a special interest group called Change Congress. The group has issued a press release concerning Senator Nelson and said it was sending mailers to Nebraskans.

Senator Nelson’s spokesman Jake Thompson issued this statement:

“There’s no doubt Senator Nelson understands the insurance industry’s important role providing health care for millions of Americans. After all, he’s been an insurance executive [The ever effective, “I’m a former insurance exec!” defense], an insurance industry regulator, a governor who created a children’s health insurance program, and today he represents Nebraska, arguably the insurance capital of the world. [And no doubt the insurance industry fundraising capital of the world.]

But let’s look at this group closely. They claim, ‘Ben Nelson said he may not support Obama’s plan.’ Can they send us a copy of the plan? [Maybe not, but we can certainly send you again to the report indicating he opposed a key element of the President’s plan] No, because President Obama hasn’t offered a specific plan yet. Next, they ask if people are ready to change Congress and ‘take on special interests’ and ‘only donate to politicians who prove they are willing to do that.’ Then, they promote an election law proposal they’re lobbying for.

So, let’s get this straight: These people are endorsing something they haven’t seen [No idea what this means: We’re endorsing a bill introduced by Senators Durbin and Specter. We’ve seen this bill.], criticizing Senator Nelson for something he hasn’t done [Interesting. Where is the press release denying the reports from the beginning of May?] and using health care as a fundraising gimmick [A “fundraising gimmick”? If he means we’re fundraising around this issue, that’s false. If he means our strike is a “gimmick,” then what’s he so upset about?] –to lobby for unrelated special interest legislation. [“UNRELATED”!?!! Are you kidding me? One can define corruption as unrelated to the objects corrupted, but that doesn’t make it so.] These people have a political agenda that has nothing remotely [We have an agenda. It is to create a Congress where legislation is on the merits — not, as it is today, guided by the implicit threat of large campaign contributors.] to do with helping Nebraskans get and keep affordable, high quality health care. Their effort is silly, sad and sophomoric. [Unlike this sort of name calling.]

Nebraskans are far too smart to fall for just another special interest group grabbing a hot issue and misrepresenting both the president [Um, where did we misrepresent the President?] and Senator Nelson [And where was Senator Nelson’s letter to Ryan Grimm complaining he had misrepresented him — before we raised this issue?] to raise money to lobby Congress [And where is our effort to raise money to lobby Congress — we’ve asked people to STOP giving money to Congress.]

Here are some facts about Senator Nelson and health care:

  1. During his presidential campaign and recently President Obama has said Americans who like their private insurance will get to keep it, or have the option to join another plan.
  2. Ben Nelson agrees and he’s eager to see more details from the president, and he wants to make sure that the 85 percent of Nebraskans who have insurance today will continue to have the option of staying with their existing plans.
  3. Senator Nelson believes that all Americans should receive health insurance and agrees with President Obama that those who currently have health insurance should be assured that it won’t be taken away from them.
  4. Senator Nelson is spending much of the congressional break in Nebraska this week meeting with Nebraskans, listening to them discuss health care and reform ideas. He’s listening to patients, providers, employers and others. He looks forward to hearing from many more Nebraskans on ways to strengthen, broaden and provide stability in America’s health care system.”
  5. [But please notice, Senator Nelson has not indicated that he supports a central idea in Obama’s plan — that Nebraskans will also have the freedom to choose a public option if (and imagine this) the private options are too costly.]

As I said, this is only the second in a series. (The first was Representative Conyers.) We will continue to call out members of both parties — and again, I promise, a Republican is coming soon — who make it too easy for Americans to believe (as 88% in my district believe) that money buys results in Congress.

Congress could change this problem tomorrow — by enacting the Trustworthy Government Now Act (aka, the “Fair Elections Now Act”). And of course Members can avoid the charge of “good souls corruption” by co-sponsoring that bill now.

But meanwhile, we’ll be working hard to make more enemies, by making the status quo very uncomfortable. Nice was for the 90s. CHANGE was the promise for today.

Tell Ben Nelson to (be)come clean.

Join our Donor Strike — promising not to support any candidate who doesn’t co-sponsor the Trustworthy Government Now Act.

And finally, celebrate this good news just in: Senator Nelson now indicates that he has changed his view, and is now “open” to the public option.

Bravo, Senator. Now about the system of funding that makes people wonder?


Hulu Launches Desktop App, Forbids Use on Anything Other than PCs

After beating competitors like Joost by choosing to go to the web rather than the desktop, and shutting out third-party apps that enable its videos on desktops or other devices like MyMediaPlayer and Boxee, it does come as a little bit of a surprise that Hulu is launching its own desktop app today.

But at the same time, it’s not a surprise, because specialized desktop apps should ideally make video playback more smooth and reliable than in-browser streaming.

What Hulu’s not doing is enabling video downloads or transfer onto other devices. Hulu Desktop simply presents an alternate UI for the site (now with sound effects!) that’s optimized for remote controls. Not that we usually use remotes on our laptops instead of those other big honking screens…but Hulu explicitly forbids use on other devices in its Desktop terms of use.

You may not download, install or use the Hulu Software on any device other than a Personal Computer including without limitation digital media receiver devices (such as Apple TV), mobile devices (such as a cell phone device, mobile handheld device or a PDA), network devices or CE devices (collectively “Prohibited Devices”).

Hulu also doesn’t promise that all of its content will be available via the desktop app, which is powered by Flash 9 (which doesn’t support P2P, so that answers that question). The software is available for both Mac and PC, and includes a browser plug-in that we haven’t fully explored yet.

Here’s what the app installation, navigation and playback looks like:




The Hulu Desktop debut comes alongside three other trial products, bundled together into the also newly launched Hulu Labs: Hulu Video Panel Designer, Time-Based Browsing and Hulu Recommendations.

Hulu CTO Eric Feng writes of the launch on the company blog,

Hulu Desktop was built by a small group on our engineering team (two devs, one designer, one product manager) who asked themselves one day: how can we make it easier for users to immerse themselves in the great shows and movies Hulu is fortunate to have access to?…And working together with our media partners, we hope Hulu Desktop is another positive step towards building a legal, long-lasting service that earns us the right to continue serving you.

Update: Boxee responds, asking Hulu to reconsider compatibility, and also not to tell its users (as it does via pop-up for those who already have Boxee installed) that running Boxee may cause problems with the Apple Remote.

Thomas H. Huxley

“Science is nothing but trained and organized common sense, differing from the latter only as a veteran may differ from a raw recruit: and its methods differ from those of common sense only as far as the guardsman’s cut and thrust differ from the manner in which a savage wields his club.”

Fight terrorism by arresting terrorists, not by looking at our genitals at airports

I like this Bruce Schneier quote from a CNN article on the TSA’s new whole body scanner, which lets TSA inspectors look at your genitals through your clothes:

Bruce Schneier, an internationally recognized security technologist, said whole-body imaging technology “works pretty well,” privacy rights aside. But he thinks the financial investment was a mistake. In a post-9/11 world, he said, he knows his position isn’t “politically tenable,” but he believes money would be better spent on intelligence-gathering and investigations.

“It’s stupid to spend money so terrorists can change plans,” he said by phone from Poland, where he was speaking at a conference. If terrorists are swayed from going through airports, they’ll just target other locations, such as a hotel in Mumbai, India, he said.

“We’d be much better off going after bad guys … and back to pre-9/11 levels of airport security,” he said. “There’s a huge ‘cover your ass’ factor in politics, but unfortunately, it doesn’t make us safer.”

Damned right. It’s amazing how many people mistake terrorism’s sworn cause as eliminating air-travel. Al Quaeda are not anti-aviation activists. They want to create terror, not ground airplanes. You fight that by arresting them, not by sticking airports in safes and throwing away the keys.

Airport security bares all, or does it?

Lessig reviews Helprin’s embarrassing infinite copyright, bloggers-are-stupid, Creative Commons is evil book

Two years ago, fantasy novelist Mark Helprin published an op-ed in the New York Times arguing for perpetual copyright. The essay was so ham-fisted and odd that a lot of people assumed that it was a joke, but now that he’s published a book on the subject, Digital Barbarism, we can be pretty sure he wasn’t kidding.

In the Huffington Post, Larry Lessig has written an in-depth review of the book, and the picture he paints isn’t pretty. Starting from the question, “Why isn’t copyright perpetual,” Helprin goes on to totally fail to research this question, failing to inspect any of the arguments that have preceded his asking. Instead, he raises a bunch of tired old saws about copyright as property, and, on the way, characterizes the Internet as a colossal failure (though, as Lessig points out, it seems like it was the only tool he used to research his book), populated by “blogger-ants” (that would be me, I guess), and led by crypto-Marxist “professors in glasses” (that would be Larry, a former Young Republican).

But Helprin has spent precious little time actually researching the supposed copyright abolition movement he's so up in arms about. He apparently watched a video in which Professor James Boyle appears, because he talks about Jamie's "desire to appear almost English, an embarrassing phase some insecure colonials enter never to exit" (Jamie is Scottish). But that's about it. He thinks that Creative Commons exists to promote "freeware" software. He thinks Lessig is anti-copyright. He thinks "monopoly" can only be applied to commodities (because he looked it up in the dictionary, and it says so there). As Lessig sez, "Too bad the lawyers at AT&T didn't read the OED when Reagan's Justice Department intervened to break up its monopoly in 'telephone service.' I can hear Attorney Helprin now: 'Your honor, excuse me, but the government has no case here. AT&T is not a monopoly, because AT&T sells no 'commodity.' A commodity is a 'thing,' your honor. All we sell is telephone service."

It’s amazing that 232 pages of (let’s not mince words) badly researched twaddle made it off the presses at HarperCollins — but it’s nice to be sure that Helprin wasn’t kidding after all.

“Maybe,” you say, charitable reader that you are, “he read the books, but just didn’t cite them.” And true enough: Helprin has this weird thing against citation. He quotes me criticizing him (on my blog): “Helprin barely cites anyone …. [He] doesn’t bother with what others have written….” (164) but then defends his practice: “It’s one thing to learn from others, but another to copy them.” (164). True enough. But then it is a third thing to acknowledge a point you have drawn from another — assuming, of course, pace solipsism, you believe that there are other people in the world, and they might possibly have something to say. At another part of the book, he mocks students who “support their assertions with crushing citations.” (162) A sin, perhaps, but nothing as compared to an author who supports his assertions with no citations at all.

But if he actually read any of these books, he didn’t take notes. The structure of his book is sprinkles of promises to make an argument, mixed with the most self-indulgent reflections upon his own life. And when Helprin actually gets around to argument, the arguments are a series of questions. (For example: “Where do they get the idea that copyright is a drag on artistic production? Are they suggesting that Pasternak could not write because Yeats had beaten him to the punch, that Tolstoy didn’t write War and Peace because Moby Dick was copyrighted?” (140); or “What magic influence comes into play to convert a condition that does not hinder publication or however many years of commercial availability into a condition that then has the opposite effect?” (77); “Is the argument that books that go into print while copyrighted and stay in print for twenty years while copyrighted go out of print because they are copyrighted?” (77)) None of these questions are profound or new. None of them would be unanswered if the author had spent two weeks researching before he wrote. But Helprin apparently didn’t have time to research. And who does these days? We’re living in Internet time. It’s work enough simply to keep up with the blogs!

The Solipsist and the Internet (a review of Helprin’s Digital Barbarism)